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Tuesday, August 11, 1998 Published at 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK


Malaysia arrests Net newsgroup suspects

The Internet rumours caused a run on the ringgit

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

The Malaysian authorities say they have arrested a man and a woman in connection with false reports about rioting in the capital, spread by Internet newsgroups.

Those in custody, both in their twenties, were tracked down with the help of Internet Service Providers and web experts.

The government news agency Bernama quoted the inspector general of police as saying more arrests were imminent.

Panic in Kuala Lumpur

Last Friday, rumours spread that illegal Indonesian immigrants had been gathering knives and machetes and were planning to riot in Kuala Lumpur in protest at a deadline to deport foreigners without work permits.

The reports prompted workers to leave offices early, engage in panic buying and then lock themselves in their homes.

The riots did not materialise and the government accused those spreading the rumours of being unpatriotic cowards who were a threat to national security.

The two detained will now be held for up to 60 days while an investigation determines whether they can be punished under the Internal Security Act. This allows detention without trial for up to two years.

Newsgroups such as soc.culture.malaysia have been full of messages posted about the rumoured riots. Some abuse the Malaysian Government. Indonesian newsgroups have also joined the debate.

The Malaysian Deputy Telecommunications minister Chan Kong Choy has warned that Internet users caught fabricating news could be jailed for three years under the Telecommunications Act.

The Printing Presses and Publications Act meant that just downloading and printing such messages could lead to charges, he added.

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